China’s population is ageing, and births have declined. The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Bank (CCP) has issued a paper calling for complete liberalisation and the promotion of childbearing.
According to some experts, Chinese President Xi Jinping may lift all birth restrictions for economic reasons and overall war readiness.
The CCP Central Bank released a working paper titled “Understanding and Countermeasures on Population Transition” on its official WeChat account on April 14. According to the report, China has a more rapidly growing ageing population and a more serious declining birth rate as compared to developed countries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines an ageing community as one in which 7 percent of the population is 65 or older. When the proportion exceeds 14 percent, the society is referred to as the Aged Society. A “super-aged society” has a population of 20% or more.
According to the Central Bank’s paper, China’s ageing population ranks first in the world and is ageing faster than that of European and American developed countries.
According to the paper’s estimates, China’s population aged 65 and up reached 88.27 million in 2000, accounting for 7% of the total population, rendering the country an ageing nation. The number of people aged 65 and up increased to 176 million in 2019, accounting for 12.6 percent of the total. It is expected that by 2022, the proportion will have risen above 14%, indicating that the country will be an aged society.
The contrast reveals that China moved from an ageing society to an aged society in just 22 years, much faster than France (140 years) and Sweden (85 years), which were the first to join aged societies. It was also more rapid than the United States (72 years).
In China, the situation with the decreasing birth rate is even worse. Between 1950 and 2019, China rapidly transitioned from a high-fertility to a low-fertility nation. The combined fertility rate fell from 6.71 to 1.70, a 5.01 percent decrease. During the same time frame, the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, and France only decreased by 1.28, 2.08, 0.33, and 1.00 percent, respectively.
Following the publication of the article, Ren Zeping, chief economist of Soochow Securities, and others released a study on China’s fertility on April 16 titled “Aging population and declining birthrates are growing, complete liberalisation is urgent.”
Both the Central Bank’s paper and Ren Zeping’s study agree that the CCP’s long-standing family planning policy has intensified a decrease in fertility rates, resulting in a large drop in births, a large drop in fertility, a drop in the number of women of childbearing age, and the accelerated emergence of an ageing population with a declining birth rate.
In 1971, the CCP instituted a population reduction programme that encouraged couples to have fewer children, and it has strictly enforced a one-child policy since the late 1970s. According to official statistics from the Ministry of Health (now the National Health Commission), 336 million abortions and 196 million sterilisations were performed in China from 1971 to March 2013; since the 1990s, 7 million abortions and nearly 2 million sterilisations have been performed per year.
In 2015, Zhai Zhenwu, dean of Renmin University of China’s School of Sociology and Population Studies, predicted that family planning had decreased China’s population by 400 million people.
According to the Ren Zeping survey, the adoption of the CCP’s robust two-child policy in 2016 did not result in an increase in births, but rather in a birth cliff. While the number of births peaked at 17.86 million in 2016, it has since dropped dramatically in subsequent years, to 17.25 million in 2017, 15.23 million in 2018, and 14.65 million in 2019.
The number of births in 2020 has not yet been reported, but according to data from the Ministry of Public Security, only 1,035,000 newborns were registered in 2020, a decrease of about 15% from 2019. The number of newborns registered by the Ministry of Public Security in 2019 accounted for 80.5 percent of the Bureau of Statistics’ births for the year, implying that the number of births in 2020 would fall by more than 2 million from 2019.
Dong Yuzheng, a population expert and director of the Guangdong Institute of Population Growth, told China Business News on April 18 that based on current trends, annual births during the 14th Five-Year Plan era could fall below the 10 million mark. As a result, China’s total population could experience negative growth within a few years.
The delay in announcing the results of China’s seventh population census from last year has raised concerns. The CCP had planned to release the census results in early April, but the National Bureau of Statistics announced on April 16 that the delay was due to the need to “release more and more accurate information,” without providing a precise date. One Twitter user remarked sarcastically, “The data is really ugly, and changing it takes a long time!”
In order to increase the number of births, several National People’s Congress members suggested that the three-child policy be fully liberalised in 2018. Ren Zeping recently stated on Weibo that not only will the three-child policy be implemented in the future, but that a policy rewarding families with four or five children could also be implemented. He anticipates that the fertility policy will be updated during the 14th Five-Year Plan cycle, and that it would be preferable to fully remove the birth limits, and if not, to first open up the third-child policy.
According to Li Yanming, a China analyst and current affairs commentator based in the United States, China’s demographic dividend is dwindling, and the CCP’s new official stance suggests that a demographic crisis is on the horizon, with major consequences for social, economic, and international competitiveness.
On the other hand, the CCP’s desire for global expansion and military hegemony is becoming clearer, and it is reverting to Mao Zedong’s domestic line, according to Li. As a result, the CCP is likely to follow Mao’s lead in the early years of its rule and adopt a strategy of promoting, if not pressuring, births in order to prepare for full-scale war and global dominance.
Before the CCP came to power, former US Secretary of State Dean Acheson said that China’s population had doubled in the 18th and 19th centuries and that no Chinese government had been able to solve the food crisis. Mao Zedong, the CCP’s first leader, claimed in his article “The Bankruptcy of Historical Materialism” in September 1949 that “China’s huge population is a very positive thing.” There is a way [for us] to multiply the number a couple of times, and that way is production. “